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Libke case highlights safety of responders

Oregon City Reserve Officer Robert Libke’s shooting death by a suspected arsonist has brought into question the role of first responders on the scene of police and fire incidents.

Firefighters and EMS providers are taught not to enter an environment that possibly endangers their lives, so Libke reportedly lay bleeding from a facial wound for at least an hour before an ambulance could take him to Legacy Emanuel Hospital, where he died the next day.

Firefighters have access to police-dispatch radios, so it’s likely they heard early reports that 88-year-old Lawrence Cambra was waving around the gun with which he later shot himself before SWAT personnel arrived. But who knew what, and when did they know it?

“Any call that poses a risk to firefighters requires us to hold back and set up a staging area,” said Clackamas Fire spokesman Brandon Paxton.

However, Paxton noted that he couldn’t speak to what he’s heard from firefighters until OCPD and the Clackamas County Major Crimes Team complete their investigation, which will include a complete timeline of the events of Nov. 3.

American Medical Response’s first ambulance reached the staging location in Oregon City that day in 3 minutes and 44 seconds so that it could begin helping Libke seconds after being cleared in by law enforcement. EMS personnel are not trained or equipped to enter and manage violent scenes, said AMR spokeswoman Lucie Drum.

“EMS agencies nationwide are typically trained and directed to ‘stage’ nearby when dispatched to a hostile or dangerous scene,” Drum wrote in a news release. “By staging within a few blocks of the scene, EMS responders can then quickly enter the scene when secured by law enforcement personnel.”

In May, AMR, firefighters and local law enforcement providers participated in a multiagency active shooter drill called PACESetter, which highlighted the importance of securing the scene first so that EMS does not also become a victim and thereby unable to help.

Three more AMR ambulances arrived at the scene of the Oregon City shooting about three, six and nine minutes later in case there were any others injured. Drum recalled AMR’s response to the Clackamas Town Center shooting Dec. 11, when AMR in Clackamas and Multnomah counties rallied quickly to deploy 10 ambulances to both sides of the mall. Clackamas Fire District No. 1 Chief Fred Charlton said at that time that he was extremely impressed with the integration and coordination of fire crews and AMR.

“We were collectively prepared for the worst-case scenario, and past training has paid off,” Charlton said.